Time to redesign the entire education system to meet the contemporary needs

 Oct 24 - 30, 2005

Educated, skilled and hard working people are the biggest and invaluable asset of any country and Pakistan too is not an exception. The countries, which have attained the status of developed economies, have been investing heavily in education and skill development. For decades the literacy level in Pakistan had remained low due to 1) absence of quality educational institutions, 2) poor curriculum, 3) use of text books written in an alien language, 4) inadequate training under trainers program and 5) separate system of education for elite and commoners. In the absence of adequate number of public schools parents have been forced to send their children to private schools, charging exorbitant fees.

One of the reasons for the present dismal situation has been meagre expenditure on education by the successive governments. Ironically these governments did not realize the importance of education and vocational training, which is evident from paltry budgetary allocation for education. It was said that the governments could not allocate resources because of heavy budget deficit. However, proliferation of private schools, mostly following English as medium of instruction, clearly suggests that the rulers were never interested in educating the masses. The society has been split in elite and commoners. Children of the fewer elites are imparted education to occupy the key positions and the masses to do the odd jobs.

Providing free of cost education to all is number one priority of the civilized societies. The objective of educating people is to enable them to lead a better life, not simply to get a job and earn few thousand rupees and continue live from hand to mouth. As against this the curriculum followed in public schools as well universities churn out graduates, which adds to the number of unemployed persons and creates frustration. First because most of these graduates cannot get a decent job and even if they get one their productivity and efficiency is very low.

The result is that most of the people are infested, infected and corrupted. They cannot think and act like a normal healthy person. A society is gauged by the norms and values and law abidance but if most of the people suffer from the above stated malice, its level of moral bankruptcy just couldn't be explained in words. The latest display of this was evident when trucks loaded with relief goods were found unloading the stuff at various warehouses. The worst was witnessed when price of coffin doubled overnight. The persons doing all this were educated but had no moral values. Therefore, it may be said the education failed to create a mindset, most desirable for a civilized society.

The purpose of education is to create awareness about the good and the bad and creation of sprit to follow the highest standards. These standards are often referred to as values and laws. Telling lies and adultery is not appreciated in any society or religion. People are also punished for violating laws and rules. However, when people are not aware of good and bad or are ignorant of laws they keep on doing the most undesirable. If the society is also corrupt people are appreciated for their misdeeds and those following the law are considered 'fools'. The result is with the passage of time these fools also become wiser by following the old saying 'Do what the Romans do while in Rome'.

The present situation can be attributed to a number of factors. In the prevailing system neither the teachers want to teach nor the students wish to seek knowledge. Teaching has become a ritual and students come to the educational institutes only to get a degree. The curriculum and textbooks are in an alien language and students are being graded and awarded degrees on one basis, how good 'parrots' are they. Most of the teachers teach from books, which are decades old and have no relevance with the present time. The reason being that there is no training of the trainers. The lack of interest of students even 'puts off' those instructors, who are serious in disseminating knowledge.

On top of every thing the herd-mentality of parents and students is adding to the number of unemployed and frustrated people. At one time every student wanted to become a doctor or engineer and then the preference shifted to Business Administration and then to Information Technology. The result is that there is always shortage of graduates in one discipline and over supply in another and lack of proper counselling adds to the miseries. Neither the students and their parents nor the educational institutes are ready to understand that demand and supply determine the job opportunities as well as the remuneration.

Most of the educational institutes are nothing but business enterprises, where the driving force is lust for more money. Many of the schools and higher educational institutes are 'housed' in highly inappropriate premises. The quality of faculty is less than average and often loaded with 'visiting' members. As the visiting faculty has other occupations and preoccupations it is neither able to devote time nor able to understand the needs of the students. The large number of students in any classroom is the biggest hurdle in understanding needs of the students and imparting knowledge. The instructors only indulge in monologue and students behave like parrots because first he/she has to decipher it into his/her mother tongue and do the vice versa when responding to the questions. Most of the time and energy is wasted in deciphering rather than understanding.

Schools, colleges and universities have been following syllabus, which is not only stale but also often completely irrelevant with the real life. For this only policy planners could be held responsible. Even a businessman of ordinary intellect carefully studies the market conditions before undertaking a new business venture. However, the policy makers neither have the comprehension nor the will to plan what the country needs the most. They hardly work on any long-term plan but only follow short-term myopic policies. If they do not know the objective they certainly cannot prepare long-term comprehensive and coherent policies.

Once upon a time the government used to prepare five-year plans and come up with supporting policies. Now the policy makers prepare only annual plans, which are also prepared without taking into account ground realities. Is it not ironic that the exact population and demographic composition of Pakistan is still not known? Do the policy planners know how many doctors, engineers and accountants Pakistan needs over the next five to ten years? Can they forecast consumption of cement, sugar, fertilizer or any other commodity for the next ten years? The fact is that they do not know the present demand and supply equation and growth rate because they do not have any database. Since they do not have any forecast about the future requirement of professionals they cannot tell the educational institutes to prepare the desired number of graduates in various disciplines.

Some of the critics are of the view that the policy planners have the resources to compile elaborate database and also prepare forecast. However, they just do not wish to do any thing to maintain the confusion. They know very well what is required and what has to be done but also pretend that they do not know. One such example is creation of Higher Education Commission. In the presence of a full-fledged Ministry of Education and Boards of Governors of universities there was no need to create such a commission. However, it has been created and its expenditures are estimated in millions of rupees. Its key mandate is to improve the quality of faculty of universities operating in the public sector. One may ask, didn't the universities know the quality of their respective faculties and the measures to be taken to improve its quality? One tends to reach the conclusion that academic councils of universities know the quality of faculty as well as the measures to be taken to improve it but were least concerned in doing this. Most of the faculty members are either involved in 'student politics' or have other chores to do and simply do not wish to improve their own knowledge. They are contended with whatever they had studied, may be quarter of a century ago.

The key factor responsible for lack of interest of faculty in teaching has been poor remuneration. Though, the faculty is responsible to groom the upcoming generation, its remuneration is very low. Therefore, in order to meet the ends they have to indulge in other activities, the best being providing private tuition at handsome charges. Newly established private universities have found an easy solution in the form of visiting faculty. However, it is creating more problems rather than providing a plausible solution. In order to earn maximum such persons deliver lectures at more than one university but fail to discharge their responsibility. Their main objective is to earn more by devoting least time.

One of the responsibilities of faculty is to constantly upgrade the syllabus. However, the lack of interaction with the employers does not allow them to understand the requirement and in turn keep them following the stale curriculum. It may not be out of context to mention that for decades no specialized courses were offered in commercial banking. The central bank has decided about two years back not to issue conventional banking licences and now licenses are being given for Islamic banking only. The prevailing situation is that there is dire need for people having such academic background but hardly any institution offers such courses. The limited availability of these professionals has become a major hurdle in the proliferation of Islamic banking in the country.

The government is keen in promoting micro finance, aimed at promoting small and medium enterprises (SMEs). However, most of the bankers involved in extending micro credit have commercial banking experience only. Corporate finance and micro finance are two entirely different ballgames and require different mindset. It could best be explained that while corporate finance is mostly collateral based, no collateral is involved in micro finance. Therefore, credit and risk appraisal techniques are entirely different. The Institute of Bankers has nearly half a century old history, but its focus had remained on commercial banking. It is heartening to know that it has recently redefined its mandate and started imparting training to people belonging to non-banking financial companies.

Corporate sector is often cited as the driving engine of economy because of its organizational structure. However, there is hardly any segregation between ownership and management. Though, there are laws stipulating separation of ownership from management the evasion is rampant. According to an observer most of the public limited companies are noting more than dignified proprietorships because these are 'one man show'. Though, Board of Directors exist but mainly comprises spouse and family members. All the strategic decisions are made by the 'kitchen cabinet' and managers are told bluntly to follow the instructions. Professional managers are often hired to help the owners to help in day-to- day management but are not granted corresponding authority. An imputed/impotent manager at the best can make a suggestion but has no authority to implement what he considers the most appropriate.

The most required quality for the owners and managers is entrepreneurship. However, the curriculum followed by most of the business schools in Pakistan produces managers only, often devoid of entrepreneurial skills. According to an analyst managerial skills and entrepreneurship are two separate traits. While manager is required to execute the decisions made by others, an entrepreneur make the strategic decisions, the most important being assuming risk keeping in view the opportunities and challenges. Another analyst does not agree with this common belief. He said, "Business schools groom graduates and post graduates who are trained to play the role of an entrepreneur as well as the manager. However, once they enter practical life they are confined to the role of an executive. His/her employer does not consider him competent enough to make a decision or even recommend possible options. With the passage of time this entrepreneurial trait dies and he/she becomes 'yes boss' character.

Professor Wali Khan Durrani, Rector, Khadim Ali Shah Bukhari Institute of Technology, describes the prevailing situation in a rather strange way. He says: "The world believes that resources are scarce but Quran says resources are in abundance. It is knowledge which tells us about resources and also the ways to use these resources. Pakistan's irony is that we know about these resources and also the ways to exploit these resources but we simply do not wish to use these. Our main problem is that our thinking has become morbid, which does not allow us to make the right decisions. In fact our thinking has derailed and unless it is put on track the country cannot develop."

He is of the view that the entire education system of Pakistan has to be redesigned. We have inherited the system from colonial system, which had different objectives. The needs of a sovereign country are different from a subservient country. The first item on agenda should be to prepare the text books in local languages and change the existing medium of instruction. Once people start thinking and writing in their own language they can do miracles. He referred to Indian progress, which had become possible only because it developed textbooks in local and regional languages. At the same time it improved literacy level as well as knowledge about the globally spoken language, English.

The second item on Khan's agenda is awareness about values and standards. He is of the view that unless people are told about right and wrong they cannot behave in the right manner. Once they get complete comprehension about right and wrong they would automatically start following the rules and the laws. Supremacy of law will also curtail the discretionary powers enjoyed by the few. These discretionary powers are the real root cause of malice. Two separate sets of laws for the elite and the commoners result is wide-scale corruption and corruption proliferates corruptions. Therefore, one often complains about absence of supremacy of law in the country.

The third item on Khan's agenda is development of academia and its linkage with trade and industry. Right type of syllabus cannot be prepared without intensive and extensive interaction with the employers. Students should not be taught those subjects which have no use in real life. However, he insists that students should be taught history, basic sciences and religion to help them develop better perception. Clarity of perceptions helps in better understanding of the norms, values, standards and laws. One cannot be stopped from committing a sin due to presence of stringent laws but he/she would not indulge in certain activities if he/she believes that these are bad for the humanity.

Till recently academicians were considered role models because of their character, zest for imparting knowledge and grooming better human beings. This sprit can be revived once again if academicians play their due role and students start considering them role models. Text books cannot be understood in their right perspective simply because of fear of examination and grades. These can be best understood when they have relevance with the real life. Once properly understood these books can also become a source of inspiration for seeking further knowledge.

Khan also believes that there is an urgent need to document demographic composition of Pakistan, taking into account how many engineers, doctors, architects and business managers etc. are already there and then future demand has to be ascertained. Once the demand and supply equation is understood properly, only then curriculum could be prepared and followed in letter and spirit. This requires proper research and documentation and the job has to be done without any prejudice.

The policy of making education free and distribution of text books being followed by the present government is a good omen but it could not yield the desired results unless there is change in mindset. This change cannot be bought overnight and each stakeholder has to play its due role. The biggest responsibility is on the shoulders of those who are responsible for writing the text books. Unless students read the books, which are relevant with real life, they cannot develop interest in reading those.

Special attention has to be paid to training of the trainers. For example computer and Internet has become an integral part of our daily life. Present time is being termed 'information age'. However, the real issue is management of the information. A problem has emerged that people are giving up reading habits. They get the information but often do not have the capacity to comprehend and utilize it.